The government has launched the Sanchar Saathi portal to enable users to trace and block their lost or stolen phones and prevent telecom frauds by leveraging artificial intelligence (AI). The portal, developed by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT), allows users to check the connections registered on their names, report fraudulent or unrequired connections, block the mobile phones which are stolen/lost and check international mobile equipment identity (IMEI) genuineness before buying a mobile phone.

The Sanchar Saathi portal was launched by Ashwini Vaishnaw, Union Minister of Communications, Electronics and Information Technology and Railways. While speaking at the launch, Vaishnaw said that three reforms are being introduced. These include ‘Central Equipment Identity Register’ (CEIR) for blocking stolen or lost mobiles; ‘Know Your Mobile’ to know mobile connections registered in your name; and ‘artificial intelligence and facial recognition powered solution for telecom SIM subscriber verification’ (ASTR) to identify fraudulent subscribers. The minister said that various frauds such as identity theft, forged know-your-customer (KYC), and banking frauds can take place by misusing mobile phones. This portal has been developed to prevent such frauds. He said user safety is also an important part of the draft Indian Telecommunications bill.

The portal has the following modules:

CEIR: In case any mobile device is stolen or lost, a user can submit the IMEI numbers on the portal. Information submitted by user along with a copy of police complaint is then verified. The system is integrated with the telecom service providers and law enforcement agencies. Once the information is verified, the system blocks the stolen mobile phones from being used in Indian networks. In case anyone tries to use the stolen device, the system allows law enforcement agencies to trace the device. When the stolen device is recovered, the user can unlock the device on the portal. The system prevents use of stolen/lost mobiles. It also prevents mobile devices with inaccurate or forged IMEIs being used in Indian networks.

Know Your Mobile: It facilitates the citizens to check the genuineness of IMEI of their mobile device.

Telecom Analytics for Fraud Management and Consumer Protection (TAFCOP): It facilitates a user to check the number of mobile connections taken in her/him name using paper-based documents. User enters her mobile number on the portal and authenticates using one time password (OTP). The system shows the total connections taken in her name using paper-based documents (such as paper based Aadhar, passport, etc.) The system allows users to report fraudulent connections. It also allows users to block the connections which are not required. Once reported by the users, the system triggers re-verification process, and the connections are terminated.

ASTR: Mobile connections obtained using fake/ forged documents are then used for cyber-frauds. To curb this menace, DoT has developed AI powered tool – ASTR to identify SIMs issued using fraudulent/forged documents. ASTR used various techniques of facial recognition and data analytics. In first phase, connections with paper-based KYC were analysed. In first phase, analysis of more than 870 million mobile connections was carried out. For such a large data processing, Param-Sidhhi Supercomputer was used. Multiple cases were detected where one photograph was used to obtain hundreds of connections. A total of 4.087 million suspected mobile connections were detected. After due verification 3.661 million connections have already been disconnected. Remaining are under process. Further, 40,123 point of sales (PoS) involved in selling such mobile connections, have been blacklisted by the service providers and more than 150 FIRs have been lodged across India. The details of disconnected numbers have been shared with banks, payment wallets and social media platforms for disengaging these numbers with their accounts.

Industry reactions:

Commenting on the launch, Lt. Gen. Dr. S.P. Kochhar, director general, Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), said, “On behalf of the Indian telecom industry, we welcome the launch of the Sanchar Saathi portal and congratulate the government on taking this citizen-centric initiative that will go a long way in empowering mobile subscribers across the country and ensuring the safety and security of their mobile devices. The Sanchar Saathi portal presents a great example of digital technology-based solutions being implemented to facilitate the telecom users across the country. The various modules of the portal, such as CEIR and TAFCOP with features like Know your Mobile and use of ASTR will help in reducing the incidents of mobile phone thefts and detect anomalies to help identify and prevent misuse/frauds. Citizens will be able to know the mobile connections issued in their name, get unrequired connections disconnected, block/trace lost mobile phones and check the genuineness of devices while buying a new/old mobile phone. We compliment the Union Minister of Communications and the DoT for this splendid initiative that is focused on making the Indian telecom sector a global benchmark for user security and safety. We look forward to collaborating with the government in ensuring the success of this initiative and contributing towards a secure and safe telecom ecosystem in India.’’